When You Bishop on a Star

My father, whose name really is Rocky F. Snider, is bishop of the LDS ward in which my family resides. This ward is in California, not Utah. This means that when church headquarters said, “No more missionary farewells in which sacrament meeting is devoted to honoring and worshipping the missionary,” they actually stopped doing them.

Anyway, last Saturday, while I was visiting for the weekend, the ward held a Pioneer Day activity involving picnics, reenactments and other assorted whoop-de-doo. We received a phone message in the morning that went approximately like this: “Please tell Bishop Snider he needs to be at the park at 8 o’clock to chase a greased pig. If he can’t make it, have him send one of his counselors.”

A number of questions were raised by this cryptic message. First of all, how does this relate to the pioneers? I can see them chasing a wild hog on occasion for food purposes, but I doubt they’d take the time to grease it up first. And from what little I know of barnyard animals, they don’t come pre-greased, viscosity being one of the things Mother Nature tends to overlook.

But more importantly, why did the message come across as though my dad were expected to comply? It wasn’t a request, like, “If you don’t already have plans or dignity, please come chase a pig like a moron.” It was as though the caller assumed this was part of dad’s stewardship — that as bishop, he held the priesthood keys of swine pursuit and would have to either exercise them himself or delegate the responsibility to some other person with authority. In developing nations, where priesthood holders are still in short supply, one assumes the pigs go unchased at Pioneer Day activities, and the picnics are overrun by swine who scamper around the park, desperately in need of someone to run after them. And the local church members sit there and say wistfully, “We must work to help our little branch grow and grow, until one day we have enough priesthood holders to catch these @$*# things.” (In developing nations, many of the saints still say things like “@$*#.”)

But my dad reports that it is not uncommon for him to be asked/instructed to do something like chase a pig. At every ward activity, there is at least one event planned whose sole purpose is to embarrass the bishop. My feeling is, hasn’t a man named “Rocky” been through enough?

He takes it all in good humor, though, and he was very cheerful and sportsmanlike when he called one of his counselors and made him go chase the pig.

Dad’s always been a good example of walking the line between goofiness and dignity. “There’s a time and place for everything” is one of the lessons I remember most from my childhood, possibly because he said it several thousand times throughout the ’70s and ’80s. (It seems the one thing I couldn’t figure out a time or place for was listening to my dad.)

How well was he able to blend lightheartedness with serious responsibility? Well, he used to have a pickup truck on which he had re-routed the wiper-fluid hose so it pointed out the front grille. When he pushed the button that would normally clean the windshield, a jet of water would squirt out the front of the truck instead, dousing whoever happened to be in the way.

I recall one Sunday afternoon when my dad — then on the stake high council — slowly followed my seminary teacher, shark-like, as she walked across the parking lot. She eventually realized what he was up to — everyone knew about Brother Snider’s Squirting Truck — and had to run to the sidewalk, in her stockings and high heels, to escape a soaking. This clearly demonstrates Dad’s sense of humor, but it also shows his sense of responsibility. A less-mature man would have just run that seminary teacher over.

In fact, if the Pioneer Day activity had involved chasing a greased seminary teacher, maybe my dad would have done it. But not a pig. You have to draw the line somewhere.

My dad's squirting truck was one of our favorite things when I was a teen-ager. I recall sitting in it with him and my brother, facing a busy street and shooting cars as they drove past.

I hoped I'd get a column out of my brief trip home, so I was glad when the pig phone call came. Some of the material in this column came directly from my family's conversations concerning it. I could probably just print a transcript of the Sniders sitting around the living room and call it a "column," or at least a "really weird transcript."

There are several Mormon references in here. If you're not Mormon, you won't get them. Sorry. But, you know, not sorry enough to change them.

The missionary farewell is a long-standing Mormon tradition. The way it's typically done, the entire sacrament meeting (that's the main Sunday worship service) is handed over to the departing missionary and his family. They're the speakers, they choose the hymns, they assign people to give prayers, etc. The mother of the missionary would stereotypically talk about the sweet things little Johnny did as a boy, how he always planned on serving a mission, yada yada yada. Then everyone would ditch out on Sunday School and other meetings to go to the family's house for snacks and socializing.

Several years ago, the church said we shouldn't do this anymore. It takes the focus away from the Lord and puts it on an individual -- an individual who is doing a great thing by going on a mission, but still. The church said it is fine to have the departing missionary and his family speak, but the bishop should assign topics (like with any other sacrament meeting), and the focus should be on the gospel, not on the specific fellow who is leaving.

Since that directive was given, I've been to a few missionary farewells in Utah in which it was clearly being ignored. I've been to only one in California, but it followed the rules. Hence, my sweeping generalization. I hope you enjoyed it.